ELCA’s David Tiede: Pursuit of Full Communion Is Complicated

 — May 6, 19986 mai 1998

ST. PAUL, Minn. (ELCA) — The Rev. David W. Tiede, president of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., affirmed Lutheran commitment to ecumenism and explained the cultural and theological factors that make proposals for full communion between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and The Episcopal Church “complicated.”

Tiede addressed a gathering of Lutherans and Episcopalians at the National Workshop on Christian Unity here April 28. He said, “I believe God is calling these churches to engage in these discussions, even the disputes, without fear or reprisal, just as the early Christians had to face their conflicts.”

Last summer the ELCA narrowly defeated a proposal The Episcopal Church had overwhelmingly approved. A revision entitled “Called to Common Mission” is presently circulating for comment in the ELCA. The church will vote on a final version in 1999.

Tiede called the historic episcopate “the most emotional aspect of our Lutheran quandary.” Like the earlier proposal, Called to Common Mission would bring the ELCA into the succession of bishops that Episcopalians claim as a sign of unity back to the earliest days of the Christian church.

“This problem is not geographically specific,” he said, “but it may be more complex for Mid-western Lutherans because most of our immigrant founders came within the last century.”

Tiede described Lutherans like himself, descended from German pastors, and other “children of Scandinavian immigrants” who “remain eager not to submit to authority systems they believe stifled the renewal of the established churches in Europe.”

Tiede said, “The populism of the prairies still extends trust to its leaders and suspicion toward even the scent of condescension or political manipulation.”

The problem is not with Episcopalians, Tiede said. “The Episcopal Church in this region of the country has a wonderful legacy of mission. Yoked parishes, vigorous urban collaborations and warm ministerial collegiality mark our relationships. We yearn to strengthen our bonds of faith and love, and we grieve any pain caused by current debates about ecumenical means,” he said.

“We are interested when our Episcopal friends talk about the office of the bishop as a symbol or even, as one local priest put it, `the bishop as icon.’ We believe this office can also bear Christ,” Tiede said. “Tell us the stories. Set them next to other catholic and apostolic legacies. Let us explore how such evangelical confession enriches the history of Christian thought and practice,” he urged.

“Ecumenism is a welcome fact of life in rural America, on the Great Plains, and in our urban neighborhoods,” Tiede said. “But suspicions persist about the mode of ecumenism represented by formal statements and processes where the `ecclesiastical diplomacy’ of denominational leaders seems so distant from the vigorous collaborations we already enjoy,” he said.

“The emotional response of suspicion or at least ambivalence arises from the dread of arcane consequences, disguised in the language of mission,” Tiede said.

The Rev. Stanley N. Olson, Redwood Falls, Minn., identified “American individualism” as a barrier to ecumenism. “Personal identity outweighs denominational identity,” he said. “Local cooperation is expected and desired. Denominational lines don’t matter much,” he said, “as long as ‘I’m making the decision to cross them.”

Olson, bishop of the ELCA’s Southwestern Minnesota Synod, took part in a seminar called, “Toward Full Communion: Reflections on the Process” with other leaders from the ELCA, The Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Olson said, “Nothing is ever purely theological. Religious issues always include histories, stories and personalities.” In ecumenism, he said, “complex matters will be simplified, perhaps oversimplified. Plan for it. Flash points will shape the debate and false alternatives will be presented.”

Mission doesn’t work very well as an abstract basis for unity, Olson said. “It is either too broad and general or too local and specific.” He said, “The issue is not so much our failure to understand facts and ideas but our failure to understand each other. People are interested in mission that is done together, not talked about.”

Midge Roof, Danville, Ind., president of Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical Officers, posed the question whether Lutherans can see the episcopate, reformed under the gospel, as an option for the church of the future, as Luther hoped.

“Is ecclesial and ecumenical continuity the more pressing evangelical affirmation or discontinuity and independence,” Roof asked. “Most of us Episcopalians remain puzzled that the terms of the debate are most heated among Lutherans and not between Lutherans and Episcopalians, which makes us feel kind of marginalized in the discussion sometimes,” she said.

“Do our churches have the capacity for full communion? I think the answer for our Episcopal church is yes,” Roof said. “The issue isn’t the failure to understand issues and ideas. Most disappointing to The Episcopal Church is, we thought we were entering into a relationship and the Lutherans were working on a document. And so that was kind of a problem, a different approach and a problem.”

The bishop of the ELCA’s Minneapolis Area Synod, the Rev. David W. Olson, called the new proposal “good and clear.” He said the churches should “look to the probability that Called to Common Mission will be adopted and plan for it.”

Olson said, “The discussion could both renew and increase understanding of the office of bishop, an office the Lutherans have not defined. We can admit we don’t have a very clear ecclesiology and work on it with great serousness.”

About 500 ecumenical officers from Christian denominations met for three days for the annual workshop. The Rev. April Ulring Larson preached for the event’s opening worship service at Luther Seminary, St. Paul. Larson is bishop of the ELCA’s LaCrosse (Wis.) Area Synod. She described growing up in Decorah, Iowa, where Lutherans were the majority, “where one denomination dominates.”

Larson traced Christian division back to the squabbling disciples and then further back to Cain and original sin. “It’s not our fault, it’s God who plays favorites. Our problem is we never seem to know who is the favorite, and we have to know who is in and who is out. And it’s getting so complicated. We’re not sure who is your favorite.”

Larson said, “Who has the truth, God? When we know who has the truth, then we can figure out who is your favorite daughter and finally our exhausting century upon century of ecclesiastical battles will be over.”

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, bishop of the ELCA’s Saint Paul Area Synod, was the preacher for a Lutheran-Episcopal joint Eucharist service at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, St. Paul.

Posted: May 6, 1998 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=4680
Categories: ELCA News
Transmis : 6 mai 1998 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=4680
Catégorie : ELCA News

  Previous post: Ancien article : Anglicans, Lutherans present united witness of their faith
  Newer post: Article récent : Orthodox churches hold WCC at arms’ length